Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts

Imagining a Future for Taiko

The first North American Taiko Conference was held in Los Angeles in 1997. At the time, I was a member of Seattle Kokon Taiko. I remember the excitement of performing in the Taiko Jam, as well as taking workshops from Kenny Endo (Tradition as the Basis of Innovation), Seiichi Tanaka (Masterclass) and Roy Hirabayashi (Creating New Songs).

I began studying taiko a few years earlier with Northwest Taiko, because I was a composition and ethnomusicology major, plus Northwest Taiko rehearsed in the Japanese language school a few blocks from where I lived. Little did I know that almost 20 years later, I would dedicate a significant amount of my energy and thought as a professional musician to taiko.

Portland Taiko welcomes RTG participants
Teaching the Composition Track at the 2012 Regional Taiko Gathering (RTG) hosted by Portland Taiko and Portland State University, I reflect on the 1997 conference as well as subsequent gatherings, conferences and summer taiko institutes. When Portland Taiko hosted the 2006 RTG, they lost more than $20,000. Along with being financially depleted, the amount of work coordinating drums and out-of-town guests proved exhausting. Portland Taiko's newly hired co-artistic director Michelle Fujii inherited a model that was unsustainable.

Even though 2011-2012, has been a challenging time for Portland Taiko (they have had a complete staff overhaul), Michelle wanted to try a new approach for RTG. Consulting with Stan Shikuma – long-time leader of Seattle Kokon Taiko and Kaze Daiko – Michelle proposed having four workshop tracks that lasted eight hours each, rather than having more than a dozen workshop leaders with concurrent sessions that lasted less than three hours. Stan said sure, let's try this.

The four taiko tracks were:
  • Foundation
  • Technique
  • Movement
  • Composition 
Along with these eight-hour taiko tracks, RTG 2012 included a low-key show-and-tell from seven groups, lunchtime discussion sessions with topics chosen by participants and an end-of-gathering happyokai sharing session.

Behind the scenes, Keiko Araki and a crew of volunteers gathered drums and equipment for the taiko tracks and sharing sessions. As a workshop leader, I was delighted to have drums for each of the composition participants. Teaching at previous conferences, I have had only one or two drums. I also remember when Toru Watanabe was scheduled to teach an afternoon workshop outside in Los Angeles. The organizers used a car stereo to play the music for his movement workshop. By having four taiko tracks at RTG 2012, equipment needs were more easily met and drum moving during the weekend was minimized.

After RTG 2012, Michelle and I laughed about past conference debacles. Out of curiosity, we dug out the 1997 booklet and read the Taiko Conference Goals:
  • Provide opportunities for networking
  • Document the History of Taiko in the United States and Canada
  • Deepen understanding of the connection of taiko in the United States and Canada with taiko in Japan and with Japanese cultural traditions
  • Encourage the continued growth and development of taiko groups in the United States and Canada 
  • Imagine a Future for Taiko in the United States and Canada
This last bullet point caused Michelle to gasp. "Imagine a future for taiko…" she exclaimed.

15 years later, taiko has made an impact around the world in venues that range from public schools to Australia's Got Talent. While amateur and professional taiko players have increased since 1997 – and the number of community groups has expanded exponentially – non-profit ensembles with paid artistic staff that have been formed can be counted on one hand. With this in mind, how can we imagine a future for taiko?

During one of her characteristic late-night creative outpourings, Michelle came up with the mission for RTG 2012:
  • Discover new taiko perspectives
  • Build meaningful relationships
  • Promote discussion, insight and innovation
  • Maintain an affordable and economically self-sustaining RTG
  • Foster the celebration of the art form of taiko 
Notice how the core values of the initial taiko conference are stream-lined. Idealism is tempered with pragmatism. When Portland State University's fire alarm resounded throughout the music building before the Sunday morning workshop, Michelle and Toru gathered RTG participants on the lawn outside for morning stretches. Breathing together in this impromptu exercise helped ground everyone. Similarly, as part of Eien Hunter-Ishikawa's Technique Track happyokai presentation, over two dozen taiko players from various groups played a super slow Don together. The quiet intensity that charged the musicians and open-eared audience reminded me how taiko has the potential to connect simply and directly.
Happyokai Presentation from the Composition Track
Innovation comes from sustainability. As a practicing artist in America, I applaud the courage of the RTG 2012 experiment where the "imagined future for taiko" happened and will continue resonating within individual taiko players and groups for years to come. Here's to continuing to imagine a future for taiko.

New Music for Taiko Video

Thinking about new music for taiko, Chad Williams and I made this brief informational video while we were at the 2011 North American Taiko Conference at Stanford University from August 18-21. Included are thoughts from:
  • Kenny Endo (Taiko Center of the Pacific, Hawai’i)
  • George Abe (founding member of Kinnara Taiko, Los Angeles)
  • Roy and PJ Hirabayashi (directors emeritus of San Jose Taiko)
  • Yoshihiko Miyamoto (president of Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten, Tokyo) 
  • Masato Baba (artistic director of TAIKOPROJECT, member of On Ensemble, Los Angeles)
  • Michelle Fujii (artistic director of Portland Taiko)
Chad and I interviewed many folks we were not able to include in this short video. There are many other taiko musicians who create new work. Perhaps we can make more videos?

What would you like to hear about generating new work for taiko?

Seattle artists help Japan

I am honored to announce that Seattle artists unite to benefit relief efforts in Japan. Folks who work in a variety of media including painting, drawing, calligraphy, sumi-e, ceramic, jewelry, sculpture, print and more have donated artworks to be displayed at KOBO at HIGO in Seattle's International District. In addition, the Murakami Family, former owners of the Higo Variety Store, will match up to $10,000 in donations raised.

Here's how the benefit sale will work according to organizers Binko Chiong-Bisbee, Etsuko Ichikawa, Elizabeth Jameson, Tommer Peterson and Junko Yamamoto:
This event is offered in the spirit of generosity and trust. Instead of purchasing the artwork, guests will have the opportunity to make a donation in the amount of that "price" directly to the International Red Cross in exchange for the work. Donations can be made by only by credit card or check. (Some employers will match your donations, check your company policies on matching donations.) Everybody wins.
Participating artists as of 19 March 2011 include:
Juan Alonso, Toshi Asai, Byron Au Yong, Peter Bagge, Clare Barboza, Debra Baxter, Jennifer Bennett, Tracy Boyd, Allison Collins, Diem Chau, C.T. Chew, Diane Culhane, Celeste Cooning, Sue Danielson, John Dix, Maiji Fiebig, Julia Freeman, Sean Frego, David French, Tim Girvin, Akiko Graham, Adriana Grant, Lisa Hasegawa, Larry Halvorsen, Robert Hardgrave, Stephanie Hargrave, Stephen Hazel, Linda Hoshide, Etsuko Ichikawa, Elizabeth Jameson, Weston Jandacka, Iskra Johnson, Shizu Enomoto Kirk, Seiko Kobayashi, Alan Lau, Anita Lehmann, Micki Lippe, Sarah Loertscher, Ana Karina Luna, Rozarii Lynch, Rick Mahaffey, Mariko Marrs, Akiko Masker, Anna Mastronardi - Novak, Kevin C. McCarthy, Jim McDermott, Shino Mikami, Mutsuko Mitsui, Naomi Mittet, Saya Moriyasu, Yuki Nakamura, Miho Nakaoka, Kristin Nelson, Haruko Nishimura, Nicholas Nyland, Yuko Otoku, Reid Ozaki, Tommer Peterson, AJ Power, Pamela Pike E Powers, Kathleen Rabel, Maria Grazia Repetto, Ken Ray, Dorothy Rissman, Norie Sato, Chiyo Sanada, Tamae Satsu, June Sekiguchi, Roger Shimomura, Katy Stone, Akio Takamori, Mugi Takei, Maki Tamura, Ken Taya, Diane Tchakirides, Timea Tihanyi, Takuya Tokizawa, Genevieve Tremblay, Mizue Trinidad, Ikuyo Tsunoda, Junichi Tsuneoka, George Tsutakawa (estate), Tomoko Uno, Egypt Urnash, Patti Warashina, Barry Wong, Junko Yamamoto, Herman Yu and Ellen Ziegler

Artists 4 Japan
Art Sale to Benefit Relief Efforts in Japan
Saturday, 26 March 2011, 12-8PM
Sunday, 27 March 2011, 12-5PM
Update: $94,000+ was raised during this event

Portland Musicians help Japan

Last Monday, when I met with artistic director Michelle Fujii of Portland Taiko, she said that she would speak with PT's community group about how they would like to respond to the recent devastation in Japan. I am excited to announce that in a few days musicians and concerned citizens throughout Portlandia have pulled together to present a Benefit Concert for Japan.

Portland Taiko + Portland State University's Department of Music host this benefit concert for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Performers include:

  • Portland Taiko
  • Takohachi
  • Mexica Tiahui
  • Mike Barber
  • Natya Leela Academy
  • Carla Mann and Jim McGinn
  • Hanzaburo Araki

Thank You CDs for relief efforts

For everyone who has contributed to relief efforts for the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, I offer complimentary BreathPlay and Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas compact discs this week.

Please send me a note with a description of your donation to Mercy Corps, the Red Cross or other NGO or non-profit organization + your mailing address by Friday, 25 March 2011. I will put both CDs in the post for you because many of the musicians and artists I work with have been affected by the disaster and I am grateful for your help.

This morning, I received a day-to-day account from shakuhachi musician Christopher Yohmei Blasdel who lives in Tokyo. His writing has many insights that resonate with me such as:
Amongst the logorrhea of commentary on the television, however, there are a few revealing snippets of the tragedy's true scope and what the nation is really going through. The enlightenment comes not from the newscasters, but from the survivors themselves.

A man was interviewed by NHK as he picked through the rubble of his home:
  • Who are you looking for?
  • My Father.
  • His body?
  • No, not the body, it probably won’t be found, I just want something to remember him by.

Hisaichi no
Mujou no yuki yo!
Haha sagashi

The disaster area.
In the heartless snow
A search for a mother.


It seemed to me that people in New Orleans looted for mainly two reasons; as an angry reaction against oppression and years of economic and social alienation or as an attempt at survival. The first scenario was demonstrated by people walking into the ruined department stores and grabbing whatever they found, believing they had the inalienable right to take stuff that wasn’t locked or guarded. The second scenario is more understandable; think mothers stealing loaves of bread for their children. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit my knowledge of nuclear power plants comes mostly from watching The Simpsons...

In addition, Yohmei posts photographs of his Tokyo flat the day of the earthquake. Especially poignant is his interaction with a young housewife at the supermarket over the dilemma of buying bottled water when there were only four bottles left on the shelf.

Take a moment this weekend to read this sentient musician's account of the earthquake, tsunami and aftermath in Japan.

I am honored to be his friend and to offer the BreathPlay CD we made together + the Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas CD for all those who have donated to relief efforts. Thank you.


Last weekend I visited Portland. Luckily I was able to hitch a ride with Tonya & Brant + touch base with Michelle & Toru. My friendships deepened during this time partly because of how the earthquake in Japan continues to resonate close to home.

Questions from our conversations:
· How do you respond to catastrophe?
· If you could follow your bliss, what would that be?
Thinking about responses to the devastation in Japan, I created this video slideshow of Ji Mo 寂寞: The Stillness of Solitude.

Perhaps it is old fashioned to think that art can bridge the place between distress and comfort. Nonetheless, I offer this slideshow as an initial response. The music is a remix from a live performance at Lincoln Hall in Portland. The photos are from an early morning at Kubota Garden in Seattle. This stillness of solitude is a reflective space to recompose.

放火 火の粉
hōka hinoko
fire sparks

放火 炎
hōka hono(o)
fire flames

放火 火事だ
hōka kajida
fire roars

Seattle-based artist Diem Chau responds by offering two crayon family portraits as part of a raffle on her blog. Chau will donate raffle proceeds to the Japanese Red Cross.

Have you found more responses worth noting?

Forbidden Circles

Chamber Music
for soprano, shakuhachi, shamisen, 17-string koto, taiko


Forbidden Circles is a chamber work for voice and Japanese instruments with text by Mutsuo Takahashi.

Program Notes
In Forbidden Circles, I go beyond the circles of convention to investigate the forbidden. I am a Chinese American composer yet I write for Japanese musical instruments. The work is for hogaku ensemble yet is recently composed. The text is from a male perspective yet a female vocalist performs the songs. The Japanese poet Mutsuo Takahashi inspired the lyrics, yet his ideas are translated to and sung in English.

The contradictions abound yet provide the conceptual grounding for this work. The soprano chants a litany of Japanese vocal styles combined with outbursts from Takahashi's realizations of sexual longing to reach a place that reflects my everyday existence as a global citizen caught between cultures.
Byron Au Yong

Duration: 6 minutes
Premiered at the Fukuoka Gendai Hogaku Festival, Acros Theatre in Japan, 2002
Performed by Ora-J at the International House of Japan in Tokyo, 2006

Toru Takemitsu

The joy of music, ultimately, seems connected to sadness. The sadness is that of existence. The more you are filled with the pure happiness of music making, the deeper the sadness. Toru Takemitsu
Japan's foremost composer, Toru Takemitsu, will be in Seattle from April 9-18, as the Seattle Spring Festival of Contemporary Music's composer-in-residence. Takemitsu is best known as the composer for the Akira Kurasawa film "Ran," which won him the 1987 Los Angeles Film Critics Award for best music score.

Born in Tokyo in 1930, Takemitsu experienced early adulthood in post World War II Japan. Having grown up with his aunt who was a koto player, traditional Japanese music brought Takemitsu bitter memories of the war years. Understandably, Takemitsu initially turned towards an international avant-garde style. His "Requiem" for string orchestra (1957) is an example of this musical idiom. Igor Stravinsky praised the work after hearing it, by chance, during a visit to a Japanese radio station.

Takemitsu first heard Western music while working as a busboy in an American Officer's mess hall. Later, he would listen to the American Armed Forces Radio and go to American films. Takemitsu is still an ardent film goer and has also composed over 90 film scores.

Having organized and worked in the ''Experimental Workshop" in the early 1950's, Takemitsu did not begin to appreciate Japanese music until he happened upon a bunraku puppet theater. The lone quality and timbre of the futazao shamisen moved him. After this fortuitous discovery of his own culture, Takemitsu began to experiment with pieces for traditional Japanese instruments. Most notably the biwa and shakuhachi. Seiji Ozawa, after hearing a tape of this music, brought it to Leonard Bernstein. From this came the commissioned work "November Steps" (1967) to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic.

"November Steps" scored for biwa, shakuhachi and orchestra confronts the differences in Western and Eastern conceptions of sound with uneven success. Half of the piece is a biwa/shakuhachi cadenza which is a strain on the structure as well as lhe listener. Takemitsu realized this after the New York premiere. "If I reconstruct the language of our traditional art. I will always remain alien to the hislorical cause. Conversely, if I westernize the original sound incantation, I would divest it of all emotional power."

Since "November Steps," Takemitsu has further refined the distinguishing sounds of his inherited musical cultures. "My music is very influenced by the Japanese tradition, especially the Japanese garden in color, spacing, form. At the same time, it is very influenced by Messiaen, Debussy and Schoenberg."

Takemitsu has furthered this Western/Eastern music meld to something very personal. His music compels the listener to submit to a rich, dignified passion of sound. His new and unique form of expressive and intellectual communication is a positive product of our modern world.

"As our 'machine civilization' develops, especially through advances in communication technology, diverse cultures are increasingly drawn together in a most intimate exchange. I believe that, in time, cultures born of diverse peoples will be merged into a synthesis, that human beings will come to have one culture, immense and on a global scale."

Originally published in the International Examiner (PDFpage 11.

Dedicated to intercultural collaboration, Byron Au Yong composes songs of dislocation, music for a changing world. He teaches in Performing Arts & Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.

Byron Au Yong & Christopher Yohmei Blasdel: BreathPlay

Byron Au Yong: Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas
Kidnapping Water:
Bottled Operas
Byron Au Yong: Yiju